‘Grey’s Anatomy’ Needs to Ditch This Forbidden Romance Trope

The Big Picture

  • Grey’s Anatomy has featured four doctor-patient relationships, although it is illegal and unethical.
  • The show needs to either explore the legal consequences of these relationships or stop using the storyline altogether.
  • The lack of fallout in the show’s portrayal of these relationships is unrealistic and detracts from the overall drama.

Grey’s Anatomy never shies away from storylines that border on the bizarre and unbelievable. In fact, it’s those types of storylines that have made it such a hit in the first place. As silly as it can be at times, it’s hard to look away. You want to know what happens, and for one hour you get to suspend all disbelief and just watch the drama unfold. But even for a show that thrives on dramatic stories, there are some that are just a little too far-fetched to work. Still, we can often look past it. But for some reason, there’s one storyline Grey’s Anatomy keeps bringing back — four times to be exact — and that’s a relationship between a doctor and a patient. Now, it doesn’t take a genius to realize that engaging in such a relationship is not only unethical, but also legally wrong. Of course, it makes for good T.V. which is likely why Grey’s has gone down that route as many times as it has, but each time the show fails to acknowledge the very real consequences that would follow such a relationship. And though these storylines never fail to have audiences gasping in surprise, the show seriously needs to make a decision. Either commit to the consequences of a doctor-patient romance, or cut it altogether.

Grey’s Anatomy

A drama centered on the personal and professional lives of five surgical interns and their supervisors.

Release Date
March 27, 2005
Main Genre

‘Grey’s Anatomy’ Has Had Four Doctor-Patient Relationships

When you think back on Grey’s Anatomy’s many romances, there’s one from Season 2 that was pretty huge: Izzie (Katherine Heigl) and Denny (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). Denny was a patient with a bad heart, who came to Seattle Grace for treatment back in the show’s second season. He immediately gained an infatuation with Izzie Stevens, something she initially disregarded as him simply being a flirtatious guy. But it quickly became clear that he wasn’t just goofing around, he had a genuine crush on her. And as they engaged more and more, Izzie found herself falling for him as well. They spark up a sweet yet forbidden romance that remains one of the show’s most loved. But because this is Grey’s Anatomy, it ends in heartache. Despite going to extraordinary measures to keep Denny alive and healthy, he succumbs to his illness, and it shatters Izzie’s entire world. His death leaves Izzie in a sort of catatonic state. She admits to cutting the LVAD wire, quits her job, and falls into a deep depression that none of her friends can seem to help her through. The only good thing that came out of the relationship was the free clinic which Izzie opened in Denny’s name, using the money he left her. Oh, and you know, when he comes back as a ghost in Season 5 to help Izzie figure out she has cancer. Just a normal day on Grey’s Anatomy.

After how big of a storyline Denny’s death was, and how much it affected Izzie, one would think that the show would call it a day. After all, everyone saw the ramifications of what happened, so why would they willingly get involved in a similar situation themselves? But then Season 3 came along, and Alex (Justin Chambers) fell for a pregnant patient named Ava (Elizabeth Reaser) whom he rescued during the ferry crash disaster. Alex grew protective of Ava, and was consistently checking up on her and her case. This naturally grew into him developing feelings for her, and vice versa. But due to the injuries she suffered during the crash, she was unable to remember anything about her life — which just made the whole situation a heck of a lot more complicated. While Alex faced a little bit of trouble for the relationship, it was only because he snuck her into the gallery to watch him perform a surgery, and even then he was only suspended from the O.R. for two weeks. Which seems like small potatoes, all things considered.

Image via ABC 

Surely after doing the doctor-patient romance twice, the show would move on. And it did… for a little while anyway. But then Season 7 came along, and Teddy (Kim Raver) met Henry (Scott Foley) and we were back at square one. Henry suffered from Von-Hippel-Lindau syndrome, and needed surgery. The issue was he didn’t have insurance. Teddy, unable to watch him die because of it, appealed to the hospital, who then gave him medication and a medical alert bracelet. But Teddy wasn’t satisfied, and as Henry was leaving suggested he marry her so he could be on her insurance. He initially refused, saying she’d regret it, but she informed him that as a doctor she couldn’t just leave him to die, and so the pair got married and successfully committed insurance fraud together. They do eventually fall in love for real, and their romance is very beautiful and genuine. But as is the case with most patients on Grey’s, Henry doesn’t get a happy ending, and Teddy is left crushed. But then the whole thing is sort of dropped and no one brings up how the whole relationship began, or the fact that Teddy committed a huge crime.

The show took a break from the patient romances for five whole seasons, which was a nice break, but then along came Season 12 and Stephanie Edwards (Jerrika Hinton) fell for her patient Kyle (Wilmer Valderrama). Kyle flirted hard with Stephanie during his stay as a patient, and the pair began to text when he was discharged. The texts became dirty, and soon Stephanie was falling for him as well. When he returned to Seattle, this time not as a patient, he asked Stephanie on a date, which resulted in the pair having sex at the end of the night. They began a labelless relationship, but during his last stint in the hospital, he asked her to go to Europe with him for the rest of his concerts. Though she considered it, Kyle died in surgery as she watched, effectively (and tragically) ending what could have been.

‘Grey’s Anatomy’ Needs To Stop Doing This Storyline Or Commit To It


We’re all a sucker for drama and romance, we wouldn’t be so hooked on Grey’s Anatomy if we weren’t, but it’s time the show retires this storyline for good. Or at the very least commit to it. And I don’t mean commit to it as in have the characters get a happy ending, I mean really dive into the legal consequences that would follow such a relationship in real life. Though we see the emotional fallout of all the aforementioned relationships, we never see the actual ramifications of them. After all, it’s not just frowned upon, like say Meredith (Ellen Pompeo) and Derek’s (Patrick Dempsey) relationship. A doctor dating their patient is totally illegal, and for some reason the show just glossed over that. And had it started and ended with Denny and Izzie perhaps we could have overlooked it. After all, that was all the way back in Season 2, the show was still finding its footing. But to do it three more times and not once dig into the legalities of it all is a bit absurd. Especially considering Teddy married her patient and committed insurance fraud. Yeah, sure, they fell in love so it eventually wasn’t a sham, but that isn’t how it started out. For a show that thrives on drama, what could be more dramatic than a lawsuit? It’s not like we didn’t see plenty of them throughout the show’s run. So what is Grey’s Anatomy’s fascination with doctor-patient relationships? And why does the show glorify them so much?

Admittedly, it’s hard not to fall for these relationships. If there’s something Grey’s is good at it’s creating enticing ships that we as viewers get invested in. We’re supposed to root for Izzie and Denny, or Teddy and Henry, we’re supposed to feel bad for Ava and Alex, and Kyle and Stephanie. But surely the show could portray intricate relationships like these without going the doctor-patient route. Because at this point it just leaves a bad taste in the mouth. The show may not have done this storyline since Season 12, which is probably for the best, but it’s baffling that it did so more than once to begin with. And it’s even more baffling that not once was there a different outcome. Sure, the circumstances were different with all, but they all turned out pretty much the same way. And it’s not like these romances are ones that flew under the radar and got lost in the show’s extensive run, they’re all very well known. So why did the show decide to just copy and paste the same storyline every few seasons with no noticeable change?

As juicy as the patient romances are, Grey’s Anatomy needs to stop writing them in. Not only has it gotten old at this point, but there’s never any big fallout that comes with it. Not that we want to see these beloved doctors get into legal trouble, but how many times can they get away with it? The only one who really faced any backlash was Izzie. And at the end of the day, she didn’t face any real consequences. She quit on her own, she wasn’t fired. She admitted to cutting the LVAD wire, despite her friends pretending it was them to protect her. There wasn’t any legal fallout to accompany her and Denny’s relationship, and given that she opened up a clinic in his name using money he left her, it’s shocking there wasn’t. Izzie dealing with the aftermath of Denny’s death is one of her strongest storylines, and frankly, it would have been made even stronger had she had to fight for her feelings for him through a court case. Sure it still would have been illegal and a little icky, but at least it would have been acknowledged. It’s time to commit to the legal consequences and the lawsuits that would follow in real life, or just cut any hint of these storylines altogether. Once was enough.

Grey’s Anatomy is available to stream on Netflix in the U.S.



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